• Donald V. Watkins

Walking Five Miles A Day

Updated: Oct 24

By: Donald V. Watkins

October 21, 2021


I wrote my family last week to let them know that my exercise routine includes a five-mile walk around the 600 meter outdoor track in the recreational area at Camp LaTuna, twice a day. The Camp's track is located in the midst of the most beautiful, scenic, panoramic territory I have visited in quite a while. The stunning views of the nearby Franklin mountains (Sierras de los Mansos) and flat land surrounding the Camp are breathtaking. The air coming off the mountains is fresh, dry, and crisp.


Because there is no fencing around the Camp, there is nothing but spectacular beauty for as far as the eyes can see. On most days, I feel like I am spending time at an all-inclusive vacation resort in southeast New Mexico while I am walking my five miles.


My family members have asked me why, at 73-years-old, I have chosen five miles as my walking benchmark. Actually, five miles per day is not my benchmark. I am working my way up to six miles, twice per day.


My Walk Has A Lot to Do With My Father's Life


The answer to my family's question is rooted in my father's experience as a young boy growing up in Montgomery and Gracey, Kentucky. My father, the late Dr. Levi Watkins, was the oldest of eight children born to Adam and Sallie Watkins. As I wrote in "Adam and Sallie Watkins: A legacy of Love," my paternal grandparents placed a very high value on public education for Levi and his siblings.


When Adam Watkins worked and traveled for the McQuarry Brothers Highway Construction Company in Kentucky and Tennessee, he and Sallie arranged for their three school-age children to live with Sallie's sister and husband (Rev. Joseph and Mrs. Felicia Irvin) in Montgomery, Kentucky. These children attended the "colored" school in Gracey, Kentucky. The non-school-age Watkins children traveled with my grandparents and lived in tents along and near various highway construction sites. Sallie home-schooled these children until they were school age.


Eventually, the "colored" school in Gracey was closed because it had only twenty-one pupils. The local school board wanted at least twenty-five to keep the school open. The all-white board would not allow colored students to attend the "white" school in Gracey.


My father's thirst for knowledge, pride in his family heritage, and desire to become a credit to his race inspired him to walk alone to the "colored" school at Cadiz, six miles away. He passed the "white" school in Gracey twice daily. Father walked these six miles to and from school in the sunshine, rain, heat, cold, sleet, snow, hail, and thunder storms to educate his mind and grow his spirit as a human being of interracial goodwill. He was determined that nothing would stop him from getting a formal education and succeeding in life. Against all odds, he excelled in both arenas.


Because of father's perseverance, focus, positive attitude, and incredible work ethic, my mother (Lillian Watkins), my five siblings (Marie, Pearl, Levi, Jr., Doristine, and James), and I had wonderful personal and professional growth opportunities throughout life. All of us reached our full potential, personally and professionally, many times over.


Our parents loved and supported us, and we knew it. We never had to search for love and support outside of our warm and caring family home.


All in the Family


Levi, Sr., Lillian, Pearl and Levi, Jr., are in Heaven now. Marie, Doristine, and James have retired from their primary professions, but are still working at the things they love doing.


As for me, I am still climbing the mountain of endless opportunities in international business. I wake up every day with plenty of positive energy, news reports from all over the world, and exciting projects to occupy my time. I keep my mind, body, and spirit in shape so that I can bring these projects to fruition after I leave Camp LaTuna.


My visit inside the federal prison system has been a short detour along life's highway, courtesy of a homegrown Birmingham, Alabama bigot named Lloyd Peeples. Neither Peeples, nor his "white power" acolytes, can derail the good things God has planned for me in life. My family's history of success in America since 1830 is a testament to the age-old expression: "Bigots never win."


I am striving for six-mile walks, twice a day. When I achieve this benchmark, I will have matched my father's thirst for knowledge, passion for life, and drive for success. While I walk around the track alone, I always feel father's presence with each step that I take.


Dr. Levi Watkins, Sr., was one of my two greatest personal heroes. The other one was my mother, Lillian Watkins. Together, Levi and Lillian Watkins formed the yardstick by which I measure the character and integrity of every man and woman I meet in life.


All of Us Have Benefitted From My Father's Walks


I think about my father's six-mile walks to and from school every time I take my walks. Father's daily walks, which were born out of necessity during the sweltering heat of oppressive racial segregation in the Deep South, gave life to his dreams as a man, a husband, a father, a leader in his community, and a legend among American college and university presidents.


Father was the only president of an institution of higher education in America to lead two unaccredited, woefully neglected, historically black colleges and universities (HBCU) to full accreditation status in four years. This is the shortest period of time for an unaccredited college or university to achieve full accreditation status.


Father was the only HBCU president to lead his university to the Level Six accreditation status enjoyed by Alabama's two historically white flagship universities (i.e., The University of Alabama and Auburn University).


Father was the HBCU president who sued a Deep South state (Alabama) in 1981 to gain equitable educational funding and academic programs for Alabama's two senior HBCU (i.e., Alabama State University and Alabama A&M University). As a result of this successful 25-year lawsuit, Alabama State and Alabama A&M received nearly $600 million in educational enhancement money (above and beyond their annual state appropriations), new and exclusive doctoral degree granting programs, and fully funded endowment funds.


Alabama State went on to become the first HBCU in the nation to earn an "A+" credit rating on Wall Street and to establish the longest unbroken string of unqualified annual audit opinions (from Tier 1 auditing firms) among all colleges and universities in Alabama.


All of this progress in higher education opportunities for African-Americans and whites of interracial goodwill occurred because my father -- Dr. Levi Watkins, Sr. -- walked six miles a day to the "colored" school in Cadiz, Kentucky as a young boy, and six miles back home.


I sincerely hope that my six-mile walks, which are borne out of admiration for my father's life-long determination to help America reach its full potential as a nation, give life to all of my dreams as a mature man, a proud father, an excited grandfather, and a successful international businessman.



IMAGE: Dr. Levi Watkins, Sr. with Donald Watkins as a young boy.

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